Guitaronomics: The Rising Cost of Tonewood


Here is another article about the international tonewood market and the coming tonewood famine.

“Guitar enthusiasts love to talk about tonewood….. Rarely do the words sustainability or scarcity come up.

These terms, however, are now central to the lexicon of the guitar industry.”

The article features comments from three people in the tonewood market:

Chris Herrod of Luthiers Mercantile International [LMI], a major American tonewood retailer, which is seeing major changes in the tonewood market.

“LMI aims to provide as many “new” varieties [of tonewoods] they can find to offer alternatives to the classics while educating the customer base along the way.”

Perry Ormsby a small Perth [Australia]-based luthier provides us with this great quote:

“Using Tasmanian blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) as a substitution [for Honduran mahogany] has been a game changer.”

“A close cousin to Hawaiian Koa, it is heavier than mahogany and difficult to work with, but it sounds great. It looks cool, and it’s Aussie,” Ormsby says.

“When his customers are educated about the wide range of wood possibilities he is using and and see the results, it makes them rethink everything they wanted out of their dream guitar.”

And finally Bob Taylor from Taylor Guitars features prominently in the article.

“When the wood is in rare supply, the price goes up. Nearly all our woods have probably increased in price about 15% over the last few years. I don’t blame this on regulation. I blame it on supply. But since the supply is so low, it’s also become highly regulated to the point of illegality.”

In addition to its ebony partnership in Cameroon in west Africa, Taylor have also started a company called Paniolo Tonewoods, a partnership with Pacific Rim Tonewoods. Together they are undertaking a massive planting of Koa (Acacia koa) timber in Hawaii.

Tasmanian blackwood also gets a mention within the discussion about Taylor Guitars as a growing alternative sustainable tonewood.

But I’m not sure the article finishes on the right note.

There’s a strong emphasis on nostalgia and traditional tonewoods. There is not a strong message about the future and sustainable tonewoods.

In that regard it tends to reflect where the general tonewood market is at right now – caught between the traditional buying habits of its customers and lacking the commitment and leadership to move to a sustainable future.

But the time of the profitable sustainable tonewood will come; perhaps in the next few years.

Ultimately if the tonewood market wants to continue to access quality wood then it will have to start paying farmers to plant trees. There is no other option.

Will Tasmania be ready when the time comes?

4 responses to “Guitaronomics: The Rising Cost of Tonewood

  1. Gippsland Agroforestry Network had its AGM last Friday. Paul Haar was our guest speaker. He’s an architect who specialises in sustainable building and loves using wood. In his talk, he described a project he’s involved in with CERES in Melbourne to set up a market for farm forestry and salvage timbers. This would possibly be a way for luthiers to connect with blackwood suppliers. We had a good turnout of 30 or so at the AGM including local Landcare conveners, a private individual looking for durable farm timber for garden bed sleepers, sawmillers as well as local farm foresters.

    GAN is in the early stages of planning a Farmer’s Wood Day next year where amongst other activities we’re considering a wood sale. This would be a one-off but there would be suppliers present who could make longer term supply arrangements.

    • Hi David,
      Thanks for keeping us up to date with what’s happening in your area. It all sounds very positive.

      I like the idea of a Farmers Wood Day. Hopefully if it is successful it will become a regular event.

      Activities like that generate interest all around and hopefully build some momentum.

      There are lots of markets in country towns but I’ve never heard of anyone selling timber at these.

      A possible idea for someone with a portable sawmill perhaps?

      Hope you have had lots of spring rain to get your trees growing this season.



      PS. For people interested in finding out more about the Gippsland Agroforestry Network here is their website:

      • Had a lot of rain – very welcome – but also a load of frosts. I have various seedlings looking a bit sad at the moment with frost damage. Planning to plant a load more before the end of September.

        I have half a dozen windfall paddock blackwoods at the moment which are a good size at up to 80cm DBHOB. I’m going to attempt selling some wood from these through niche markets. As paddock trees they haven’t been managed so they will have knots and given they’re mature trees that have fallen over in strong winds they may also have borer, rot etc See how we go.

        I had an interesting discussion with a local sawmiller the other day regarding selling feature timbers as paneling. He is of the opinion that some knots etc add to the interest of these timbers in this use. Whether architects and interior designers agree remains to be seen.

        Selling small pieces of wood to woodworkers might be viable through a farmers market. And possibly this could also represent an opportunity to let the public know that you have other timber products available that are a bit bulky to bring to a market.

      • I think the market idea at CERES is a good one. It’s in Melbourne so access to a bigger potential market.
        Good luck!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s